The Swazi prime minister has announced that a ’development partner’ has presented King Mswati III, forty-four, with a revamped MD-87 private jet as a ’birthday present.’ One South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, quotes an anonymous ’plane spotter’ that the VIP refit could bring the total cost of the used airplane up to $20 million. It also reports Swazi speculation that the donor is an Indian company with iron mining interests in Swaziland.
In a separate article, the Mail and Guardian reports the twelve-year saga of the construction of a new, international airport in Swaziland, the opening of which has again been delayed. Some Swazis are criticizing the project -- which may have already cost $1 billion -- as a largely useless prestige project. Other critics include the International Monetary Fund.
The Mail and Guardian credibly reports that 67 percent of the population of Swaziland lives in poverty and 40 percent are unemployed. Falling customs revenues are strapping the Swazi government. Swazi civil society activists appear to have a point when they say that funds could better have been spent on schools and hospitals. And the lack of transparency about the donor and cost of the king’s ’birthday present’ does not help. (The king is said to have lavish tastes.)
According to the Mail and Guardian, defenders of the airport argue that it will promote economic development and that poor countries need to have ’vision.’ Nevertheless, it escapes me as to why Swaziland requires a new airport, let alone why the king needs an apparently luxuriously fitted private jet.